Freshman Donnie Corley bright spot for Spartans in tough season

Freshman Donnie Corley has emerged as a two-way contributor for the Spartans.

Matt Cashore / USA TODAY Sports

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- As a disappointing season winds down, Michigan State could use a few signs of hope for the future.

Freshman Donnie Corley certainly qualifies.

Corley has emerged as a two-way contributor for the Spartans, playing both wide receiver and defensive back in his first season at the college level. It may be too late for Michigan State to salvage much from the 2016 season, but Corley looks like someone who could make a major impact at the school in the years to come.

"Our idea is to make sure that he is thoroughly exhausted at the end of the football game," coach Mark Dantonio said. "That's the plan."

It's no huge surprise that Corley has been able to play right away. Both Rivals and Scout listed him as a four-star recruit, and as a senior at Martin Luther King H.S. in Detroit, Corley had 59 receptions and 10 interceptions.

The Spartans (3-7, 1-6, Big Ten) needed to replace several key players from last year, and Corley immediately made his presence felt. In Michigan State's second game of the season at Notre Dame, he caught four passes for 88 yards, including a leaping touchdown grab that turned out to be one of the highlights of the season for the Spartans.

Corley is now third on the team with 27 receptions, and he's been able to help the defensive backfield as well.

"We recruited Donnie with the idea that he could play both, and we want to make that happen. He's skilled enough to do that," Dantonio said. "He's a big athletic guy with ball judgment, he can tackle in space."

Part of the reason Corley has played on defense is because the Spartans needed help in the secondary, but his ability to juggle multiple roles as a freshman has been impressive.

"It's been kind of hard. During the game, adjustments they make on the sidelines, I can't really be there," Corley said. "I'm over here with the defense while the offense is making adjustments on the sideline. Things like that, it's kind of hard."

The Spartans would be delighted if Corley can develop into the type of two-way threat who make a game-changing play at any time -- like rival Michigan has with Jabrill Peppers. With Michigan State set to host No. 2 Ohio State (9-1, 6-1) this weekend, Dantonio talked a bit Tuesday about the way Chris Gamble used to play both ways for the Buckeyes.

Dantonio coached Gamble when he was an assistant at Ohio State over a decade ago.

"He played six games, I think, where he played over 100 plays. So it's doable," Dantonio said. "But, you know, whether we get to that extent or not will depend on other people and other personnel, recruiting, and how people and players develop and those type of things."

Corley is starting down the path toward becoming a dynamic two-way star, and the experience he's gaining as a freshman could pay major dividends as Michigan State tries to rebound from a season in which little has gone right.

"Coach D always used to tell (me), `You might play both ways,'" Corley said. "But he always told me that offense would probably be the first thing, then once I learned it, he would try and switch it. I didn't really think that I would learn it that fast and that it would happen that fast. I didn't think it would happen in the first year."

NOTES: Dantonio said injured DL Malik McDowell's status remains uncertain this week. He missed last weekend's win over Rutgers.